Hours before his execution death row convict pens moving essay

Published: June 9, 2015
A file photo of Aftab Bahadur Masih. PHOTO: IB TIMES

A file photo of Aftab Bahadur Masih. PHOTO: IB TIMES

Rights groups and church leaders on Tuesday urged the government to halt the imminent execution of a man for a murder committed in 1992, saying his conviction was flawed.

The plea for mercy for Aftab Bahadur Masih, who is due to be hanged on Wednesday, comes after Shafqat Hussain, another prisoner condemned to death in contentious circumstances was granted a last-minute reprieve.

According to the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a human rights law firm handling his case, Masih was only 15 when he was arrested over a murder in the eastern city of Lahore.

Read: In the last six months, Pakistan has executed more people than Saudi Arabia

The JPP say he was convicted on the basis of a confession extracted through torture from his co-accused Ghulam Mustafa, along with another eyewitness, and both have since retracted their statements.

British anti-death penalty campaign group Reprieve said it was a “scandal” that Pakistan was planning to hang Masih.

“The execution of this innocent man, arrested as a child, should immediately be halted,” Reprieve’s Maya Foa said in a statement.

In a moving essay penned in Urdu and translated by Reprieve, Masih recalls the horrors of being on death row.

The text of his essay is below:

I just received my black warrant. It says I will be hanged by the neck until dead on Wednesday, June 10.

I am innocent, but I do not know whether that will make any difference.

During the last 22 years of my imprisonment, I have received death warrants many times. It is strange, but I cannot even tell you how many times I have been told that I am about to die.

Obviously it feels bad whenever the warrants are issued. I start to count down the days, which is in itself painful, and I find that my nerves are shackled in the same way as my body.

In truth, I die many times before my death. I suppose my life experience is different from that of most people, but I doubt there is anything more dreadful than being told that you are going to die, and then sitting in a prison cell just waiting for that moment.

For many years – since I was just 15 years old – I have been stranded between life and death. It has been a complete limbo, total uncertainty about the future.

I am a Christian, and sometimes that is difficult here. Unfortunately, there is one prisoner in particular who has tried to make our lives more difficult. I don’t know why he does it.

I got very upset over the Christian bombings that took place in Peshawar. This hurt me deeply, and I wish that Pakistani people could possess a sense of nationality that overrode their sectarianism. There is a small group of us here who are Christians, just four or five, and we are now all in one cell, which has improved my life.

I do everything I can to escape my misery. I am an art lover. I was an artist – just an ordinary one – from my early days, when I was first conscious of anything.

Even back then, I was inclined towards painting, as well as writing verses. Although I had no training, it was just a gift of God. But after I was brought to jail I had no other way to express my feelings, as I was then in a state of complete alienation and loneliness.

I began some time ago to paint all the signs for the Kot Lakhpat jail, where I am held. Then I was asked to do signs for other jails. Nothing in this world can give me more happiness than the feeling when I paint some idea, or feeling on the canvas. It is my life, so I am happy to do it. My workload is great, and I am exhausted at the end of each day, but I am glad of that, as it keeps my mind off other things.

I have no family to visit me, so when someone does come, it is a wonderful experience. It allows me to reap ideas from the outside world that I can then lay down on my canvas. Being asked about how I was tortured by the police brought back terrible memories that I turned into pictures, though it would perhaps have been better not to have to think of what the police did to try to get me to confess falsely to this crime.

When we heard the news about lifting the death penalty moratorium in December 2014, fear prevailed throughout the cells of the prison here. There was an overriding sense of horror. The atmosphere hung, gloomy, over us all. But then the executions actually started at Kot Lakhpat jail, and everyone started to go through mental torture. Those who were being hanged had been our companions for many years on this road to death, and it is only natural that their deaths left us in a state of despair.

While the death penalty moratorium was ended on the pretext of killing terrorists, most of the people here in Kot Lakhpat are charged with regular crimes. Quite how killing them is going to stop the sectarian violence in this country, I cannot say.

I hope I do not die on Wednesday, but I have no source of money, so I can only rely on God and on my volunteer lawyers. I have not given up hope, though the night is very dark.

Church leaders also appealed for a reprieve for Masih, who is a Christian. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Karachi, Joseph Coutts, has written to President Mamnoon Hussain asking for Masih’s hanging to be delayed so his case can be investigated.

In a separate letter several other church leaders including Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester in Britain, also called for clemency.

“Bahadur has now spent 23 years in prison — more than a life sentence — for a crime that the two witnesses on which his conviction rest now say he is innocent,” the letter says.

“To execute Bahadur in these circumstances would be to commit a grave injustice.”

Earlier on Tuesday Shafqat Hussain, sentenced to hang for killing a seven-year-old boy in Karachi in 2004, had an 11th-hour stay of execution.

Read: SC adjourns Shafqat Hussain’s appeal hearing till tomorrow

Hussain’s supporters say he was a juvenile when the crime was committed and was also tortured into confessing.

More than 130 convicts have been hanged since restarting executions in December after Taliban militants murdered more than 150 people at a school, most of them children.

A moratorium on the death penalty had been in force since 2008, and its end angered rights activists and alarmed some foreign countries.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Selective Justice
    Jun 9, 2015 - 6:46PM

    This is what happens when you allow the likes of Shafqat Hussain to manipulate the system. All these NGOs, who for sure have framed this letter for this guy, need to be booked for impeding the course of justice. Who gave these NGOs the right to decide who is juvenile and who isnt and who is innocent and who isnt. Recommend

  • Kamal
    Jun 9, 2015 - 7:20PM

    As pathetic as it can get – injustice system of our country. Recommend

  • Faraz
    Jun 9, 2015 - 7:30PM

    @Selective Justice:
    Read the article. There was no evidence against him just the testimony of two witnesses both of whom have since retracted their statements.Recommend

  • Meheryar shaikh
    Jun 9, 2015 - 7:45PM

    @Selective Justice

    Incredible that you can type. Would have assumed from your post that you’re not literate.Recommend

  • Bias View
    Jun 9, 2015 - 8:24PM

    Tribune, also share the feelings of his victim family.Recommend

  • Asif
    Jun 9, 2015 - 8:24PM

    “While the death penalty moratorium was ended on the pretext of killing terrorists, most of the people here in Kot Lakhpat are charged with regular crimes. Quite how killing them is going to stop the sectarian violence in this country, I cannot say”… that’s all…Recommend

  • Selective Justice
    Jun 9, 2015 - 8:38PM

    I wonder why a comment saying that the photo is clearly not from 1992 was censored. How does this comment violate any of ET’s posting guidelines?Recommend

  • Tariq
    Jun 9, 2015 - 9:19PM

    Pakistani judiciary has been a total joke since the hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1979. Bhutto was convicted and hanged on the basis of the unsupported testimony of an “Approver”. For those who don’t know, an “approver” is a person who confesses to being part of the crime and is given a free pardon in exchange for his testimony against another individual. Even a non lawyer can see that such a person would have a huge incentive to lie in order to save his own neck. As far back as the records go, no person other than Bhutto has ever been hanged on the sole basis of an approver’s testimony.

    I was never a Bhutto supporter, but politics aside, the actions of the Punjab High Court under Maulvi Mushtaq and the Pakistan Supreme Court under Anwar ul Haq leading to Bhutto’s hanging placed a permanent black mark on Pakistani judicial system. Until that black mark is somehow removed, every death sentence passed by a Pakistani court has to be looked at with certain amount of doubt. Recommend

  • Shah
    Jun 9, 2015 - 10:57PM

    He has served equal of two life sentences already.
    It will be grave injustice, like the article says.
    Let him go….Recommend

  • Innocent
    Jun 9, 2015 - 11:29PM

    It seems ET is pursuing a policy to push for ending of the death sentence. Do people know that in USA, even a minor convicted of killing is sent to jail WITHOUT the possibility of parole. That person remains in jail FOREVER! You just can’t let killers on the lose.

    How about a letter from the family who lost a loved one? Some statistics of murders that can/have been prevented by hanging lunatics? Has there ever been a survey on how many murders are committed by murderers acquitted by the courts?

    In a country where law is a joke and numerous loopholes exists for the criminals to escape justice, last thing we need is an NGO spearheaded campaign to stop the death sentence. Without law, societies descend into anarchy and collapse. One just needs to look around to see this at work in modern day Pakistan. Sorry, but I don’t feel much sympathy after reading this doctored letter! Recommend

  • Jun 10, 2015 - 12:11AM

    in a corrupt country like Pakistan why would it be difficult for a death row convict to get birth papers saying they were under age?! … if you kill someone the rights are not just of the criminal but also of the victim, oh wait, they are dead!Recommend

  • Lolz
    Jun 10, 2015 - 12:23AM

    @Selective Justice:
    @Innocent: What about Mumtaz Qadri? Shouldn’t he be hung in public till death?Recommend

  • msh
    Jun 10, 2015 - 2:02AM

    The hangings should be carried out only for terrorists not for other cases.Recommend

  • Near-to-Justice
    Jun 10, 2015 - 2:15AM

    The judicial system of Pakistan already acquits more offenders on the basis of the presumption of doubt; broken chain of evidence; shrouded in mystery etc. and the legislature is not responding to the requirements of provision of law which correspond with the manner of offences or lay scientific tools evidence. The few , convicted are being exonerated by socalled NGOs. Recommend

  • Jibran
    Jun 10, 2015 - 5:37AM

    Same charges, same sentence. One is bearded, the other is christian. Now go figure!Recommend

  • Imran
    Jun 10, 2015 - 6:16AM

    What’s the point of lifting moratorium when less than ten percent of criminals hanged were terrorists. Most had already served 20-22 years in jail before being put to death. People have no heart or soul.Recommend

  • Jun 10, 2015 - 6:40AM

    @Lolz: Absolutely!Recommend

  • Jun 10, 2015 - 6:42AM

    @Lolz: even then he should be punished for taking the law in his own hands. it is not everyone’s responsibility to carry out punishments themselvesRecommend

  • Zaida Parvez
    Jun 10, 2015 - 6:44AM

    Injustices happen all over the world. But I don’t there there is another place on earth where it happens so frequently and deliberately as in Pakistan. Somehow humanity died in Pakistan. I think it died when Zia was at the helm.Recommend

  • AHK
    Jun 10, 2015 - 7:07AM

    Are courts to decide whether a person is guilty or is this now going to be decided by the western governments and pakistani ‘liberals’? He may well be innocent but if all the ‘liberals’ have such a heart for the suffering why was he left in jail for 22 years with no NGO stepping forward to file an appeal?
    This has nothing to do with this guy’s innocence And everything to do with opposition to the death penalty. Every once in a while the ‘liberals’ en mass pick up a case and start trumpeting that the guy to be hanged is innocent (without any proof mind you). Remember the case of shafqat? There will be othersRecommend

  • Tariq Babar
    Jun 10, 2015 - 9:41AM

    This man has already suffered a lot and his life is horrible and miserable. Its irony that in more than two decades our judiciary could not decide a case.Recommend

  • Klick Anyway
    Jun 10, 2015 - 10:04AM

    Where is JUSTICE so called
    In the name of terrorists death penalty was resumed …The doubtful were hanged …
    Mastung 22 killed after identification, Hazara Shia Genoside…any many more Go Mynmar and doing funding – What about Karachi, Balochistan…………..
    SHAME !!!Recommend

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